I can recognize what Paul is telling the Romans when he says that his fellow Israelites’ zeal isn’t based on knowledge. They don’t know. They are ignorant. And yet they are zealous. They didn’t understand what the scriptures were saying. They didn’t understand where they were pointing. They didn’t know that the Law and Prophets told of Jesus. They didn’t know that Jesus had fulfilled what the Law and Prophets foretold.

And yet they were zealous.

This is the same type of situation that we see even today. Religions wrap people up in a lot of zeal because it ties them to their lifestyle. That religion that we grew up with is what we knew, is what we saw with our parents, is what we saw with our grandparents. We are Catholic. We are Muslim. We are evangelical Christian. This is who we are.

Yet that religion is frequently more tied to the geography of where they are from and the culture of that particular place rather than the actual truth of what is being understood and being practiced. Many times, people have told me: We are from west Africa and in west Africa, we are Muslim. Or they might say: We are from Catania and in Catania we are Catholics that celebrate Sant’Agata.

This attitude is the same type of attitude that Paul is referring to. He is talking, in his case, about the Jews. The Jews don’t truly understand, and yet they are zealous. They will continue in their traditions because those traditions are closely connected to their religion and has created a culture for them that has told them who they are. Those tradition, that culture, is actually what it is that they are zealous for because it has defined them as a people. Their identity is wrapped up in these traditions, in their culture, and that creates and continues to drive their zeal for it.

But Paul says:

I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.

Romans 10:2

So it is critical that our zeal is based not on our own understanding, nor upon what our culture or traditions tell us, but that it is based on what God says. If we’re zealous for God, we should understand who he is. We should understand what he is doing. And through this, our zealousness – which we definitely should have! – can be based on knowledge. Our knowledge of who God is and what he is doing will produce a zeal that goes well beyond our connection to our traditions or to our culture. In fact, each of these things will pale in comparison. Instead, our zeal will be for the glory of Christ as we zealously live for our king!

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